|Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal gets ready for the start of the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia cycling race going from San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago on May 24, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/LUK BENIES)
Ryder Hesjedal was riding high Friday as he moved into position to become Canada's first winner of a Grand Tour cycling race.
Hesjedal cut leader Joaquim Rodriguez's overall advantage to 17 seconds as he finished in second place at Friday's stage.
Grimacing with pain as he pulled ahead of his rivals on a steep 7.7-km ascent of Alpe di Pampeago, Hesjedal, 31, finished 19 seconds behind solo winner Ronan Kreuziger, with Rodriguez third, 32 seconds behind.
"This was the day the other contenders were supposed to drop Ryder, and Ryder ended up dropping us," Spaniard Rodriguez said after the 198-km mountain stage.
"This really changes everything. It's going to be really difficult. He was already probably going to gain time on Sunday's (final) time-trial stage, now he has shown he's really strong in the mountains, too.
"Winning the Giro is in his hands now. But I've got the lead, I'm still there."
Hesjedal's late attack scored a major psychological blow on his rivals.
"They tried to dislodge me but I showed them my abilities," Hesjedal said. "I'm comfortable with my condition: Better 17 seconds than 30."
After another high-mountain stage Saturday, the Giro finishes Sunday with an individual time trial through the streets of Milan.
CANUCKS SET FOR FRENCH OPEN
Six Canadians will compete in the main draw at the French Open, with play beginning Sunday at Roland-Garros.
Heidi El Tabakh of Toronto advanced from the qualifying round with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 win over Camila Giorgi of Italy to join Stephanie Dubois of Laval, Que., Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver in the second Grand Slam of the season.
This is the first time since 1990 that six Canadians have been in the main draw at Roland-Garros.
El Tabakh and Wozniak will meet in a first-round match.
On the men's side, Raonic will try to improve on his first-round exit last year when he takes on Spaniard Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo. Raonic, who has a 5-4 record on clay this year, is the No. 19 seed.
ROWING RECORD FOR MEN'S EIGHT
Canada's men's eight set a world-best time Friday at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The Canadians won the 2,000-metre heat in five minutes 19.35 seconds, breaking by .60 seconds the record set by the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Germany won the other heat in 05:22.44 to also advance to the A final.
Canada's women's eight won its heat in 05:55.71. The U.S. won the second heat in 05:54.17.
The Canadian team grabbed three wins Friday as the Para-cycling World Cup opened in Rome with time-trial racing. The tandem of Robbi Weldon and Lyne Bessette (20.8 km), as well tricyclists Marie-Eve Croteau and Shelley Gautier (both 10.4 km) won their races ... Mark Weightman has been appointed COO of the Montreal Alouettes, owner Bob Wetenhall announced Friday. Weightman, of Saint-Andre d'Argenteuil, Que., will handle day-to-day management duties and continue as vice-president, operations and events. He is essentially taking over duties of Ray Lalonde, who resigned May 11 as Als president.